Asbestos in lungs

Last Updated on May 7, 2021 by Mandeep

What happens if I get asbestos in my lungs?

The general advice is that no amount of exposure to asbestos is considered to be safe, even a one-time brief exposure could result in asbestos fibers entering the lungs.

So asbestos exposure should be avoided if at all possible.

People should ensure they are asbestos aware and take the necessary precautions in order to stay safe and avoid inhaling the toxic dust.

However, despite this advice, most asbestos related diseases only manifest after many years of regular exposure to asbestos.

Likewise, an extremely intense short term exposure to asbestos can also increase the risk of developing an asbestos related disease later in life.

Short term asbestos exposure is classed as an incident lasting no more than a few days.

Generally speaking though, the risks to health from short term asbestos exposure are considered to be low.

It is prolonged exposure to asbestos over many years that is considered to put people at the highest risk of asbestos disease.

Long periods of being exposed to asbestos can lead to tiny asbestos fibers becoming lodged in the lungs over time.

The most common signs of asbestos being present in the lungs include shortness of breath, a persistent cough and chest pain.

Pleural plaques may develop prior to mesothelioma or lung cancer and are a sign that a person had enough exposure to be at risk of other diseases. 

What type of lung cancer is caused by asbestos?

Asbestos fibers are very thin and can easily escape into the air, posing a health hazard.

When you breathe the tiny asbestos fibers in (which are naked to the human eye), they can get stuck deep in the tissue of your lungs and will remain there for a long time, eventually causing scarring and inflammation.

Over time, this can lead to several different types of asbestos-related lung diseases and problems with the lungs, including the following:-

x-ray asbestos in the lungs
Asbestos breathed into the lungs can cause various types of asbestos related lung diseases

What are the first signs of asbestos poisoning?

Each of these asbestos-related diseases will have different symptoms, which tend to vary depending on which disease you have and how much damage it has caused to your lungs.

Common symptoms of some of these asbestos-related diseases may include shortness of breath, a persistent cough, chest pain or tightness in your chest, appetite loss or nail deformities/finger clubbing (enlarged fingertips).

In most cases, any symptoms of having asbestos in your lungs won’t start to appear until approximately 20 years after exposure to asbestos.

Although it can take from as little as 10 years for any symptoms to appear right up to 40 years.

How do I know if I have asbestos in my lungs?

Your GP will diagnose an asbestos related lung disease based upon your past exposure to asbestos, any symptoms you’re experiencing, a physical examination, and they will also arrange for you to have certain tests done like a chest X-ray or chest CT scan.

This combination of testing, physical examination and looking at your past history with asbestos will help to determine if you have any asbestos in your lungs, and will help medical professionals decide on what treatments are best going forward.

Is there a cure for asbestos in the lungs?

Once asbestos fibers are inhaled into your lungs, the body can’t naturally dispose of them, so the fibers become lodged in your lungs and can spread over a long period of time, eventually causing health complications.

There is currently no cure for asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer, as the damage to the lungs has already been done by the time they are diagnosed.

However, there are some treatments available that can help to ease the symptoms.

For example, when it comes to asbestosis, treatments that are available include:-

Treatments that are currently available for mesothelioma include:-

Does everyone exposed to asbestos get cancer?

Not everyone who has been exposed to asbestos and breathed it into their lungs will go on to develop an asbestos related cancer.

This is because it will depend on certain risk factors such as their age at the time of exposure, how long the person was exposed for and how much they were exposed to.

So anyone who’s been exposed to asbestos at an early age and breathed it into their lungs over a long period of time (at high levels) is much more likely to develop cancer. 

There may also be other risk factors involved such as a person’s genes or if they’ve had radiation treatments in the past.

Statistics show that most cases of asbestos cancer are linked to high levels of asbestos exposure in the workplace.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone exposed to asbestos on one occasion, or for a short period at low levels, will go on to develop an asbestos related illness further down the line.

Those proven to be most at risk of asbestos exposure in the workplace will be people who have worked as miners, factory workers, ship builders, insulation manufacturers and installers, gas mask manufacturers, railroad and automotive workers, plumbers and general construction workers.

And it’s not only workers in these trades that can be at high risk from asbestos exposure.

Workers have been known to carry home asbestos fibers on their clothing, and a result their family members have also become exposed, wives in particular who would wash the contaminated clothing.

Did you find this article interesting?  Then check out our other interesting articles below.

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Published Aug 27, 2019

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